By Mara Higdon
Towards the end of summer, I get a little lazy, especially when it comes to lettuce and spinach. In the spring, I plant my lettuce in rows, organize the colors, and set out designs. But in the fall, I put in lettuce or spinach wherever I can find a free space. It grows just about anywhere and really benefits from being shaded by the remnants of your tomato plants or other cool season crops.
Go ahead and try out the different varieties of lettuce and spinach available on the market today. They are gorgeous and add a lot of color to salads other than your typical green shades. A few varieties that I like are ‘Merveille des Quatre Saisons’, a reddish green bibb variety; ‘Mignonette Bronze’, a bronzy, slow to bolt variety with frilly leaves; ‘Little Gem’, a cute small romaine variety; and ‘Gentilina’, an Italian variety with bright green, frizzy, leafy heads.
For spinach I almost always grow ‘Bloomsdale Long’ standing as it does well in hot weather. If you can’t decide on one type or another, try a packet of salad mix seeds. Most suppliers have “lettuce blends” that provide varieties that grow well together and are quite tasty.
To plant, I broadcast seed on top of the planting area and then sprinkle them with a light layer of soil or compost. It is best to barely cover them. Water carefully so you do not create rivers of water that wash away your seed. Heavy seeding keeps the weeds out, but requires you to thin out the plants to reduce crowding. Daily thinning keeps the plants in check and the larger plants will fill in the space quickly.
Use a pair of scissors to harvest what you need for dinner and leave the rest. New leaves will form and continue to do so till it starts to get cold. In the fall, use an old bed sheet to cover your lettuce and spinach if nighttime temperatures drop below freezing or remain cold for a couple of days. Uncover them if sun and warmer daytime temperatures are expected and they will perk right up.
When planting your lettuce or spinach, throw in a few radish seeds as well. They can be a delicious addition to your bountiful lettuce and spinach harvest that will last well into the fall season. All I need now is a good salad dressing recipe!
Mara Higdon is the Program Director at Gateway Greening. They focus on community development throughout the St Louis area.